Licensing: Copyright

Last time, I wrote an article about the basics of licensing. This time, I will go into a deeper discussion about the complications of “owning the rights” to something.

A lot of people ask about “owning the rights” to something. It can be a copyrighted work, a trademark, or something else. This article will focus on copyright, because that is where it gets more complicated.

Copyright law is meant to progress the arts and the sciences. When you create a work, you gain copyright protection automatically. What you also have is a “bundle of rights” to the copyrighted work. This bundle of rights most commonly refers to one, or a combination of rights from section 106 (or §106) of the Copyright Act (and there are others). §106 contains these 6 rights (in no particular order):

Reproduction – the ability to make copies of the work.

Distribution – the ability to distribute the work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, rental, lease, or lending.

Derivative Works – the ability to prepare derivative works based off of the copyrighted work (think spin-offs of TV shows).

Public Performance – the ability to perform the work publicly. (usually for musical, literary, choreographic, films, audiovisual (video games) works)

Public Display – the ability to display the work publicly.

Public Performance (Digital) – the ability to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.

A license is permission to use the current owner’s work. The rights listed above can be licensed or transferred temporarily, permanently, separately, jointly, and/or with various conditions to the next owner. The key point is whatever you have the rights to is the determining factor.

A common example would be owning a photo. If I take a photo of you using my equipment then I would be the owner of the photograph. If I sign a contract with a client giving the client a license (or permission) to post the photo on social media, that means the client can post the photo on social media. The contract could potentially limit which social media sites the client could post to. In this case, I will still own the photo, and can do whatever I want with the photo.

A different example would be owning the rights to a book. If I license my reproduction and distribution rights to a publishing company for 3 years, then I can’t make copies or distribute the book during those 3 years. There may be certain exceptions, but those will be spelled out in the contract, and both parties will need to abide by those terms. In this case, I still own the copyrights to the book, but I have temporarily given some rights away to another company.

Lastly, read your contracts! This way you will know what rights you are giving up, and what you may or may not be capable of doing. I hope that this clears up some deeper questions regarding licensing.

As always, thank you for reading! Questions are welcome!

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